Video games, when you think about it, are still pretty crap. Oh yes, we have visually stunning worlds realised down to the last tiny, billion-polygon detail. Oh yes, we have epic sweeping narratives that could make a mountain cry until it turned to mud. But games still cling onto a load of tired old crap that really is unjustifiable in the modern age. And they cling onto it because we as gamers keep accepting it. We shouldn't.
Pointless old design decisions, decades past their relevence sweet-spot. Sloppy glitches in basic, core gameplay elements that really should be second-nature to create by now. Cheap, badly-executed corner-cutting that we allow to slide again and again, just because we've already seen it so many times before. Well sharpen up, people. The only way this crap is going to change if we take an objective look and call it out for the unacceptable, out-dated balls it is. So I'm starting with these six.
Age-old video game cliche it may be, but the concept of having a finite number of lives, whose depletion inevitably leads to the dread bastard visage of the “game over” screen, is not a true element of game design. It is a trope of basic capitalism, pure and simple. People like doing enjoyable things. And if those things are really enjoyable, they’ll pay to do them. If they’re really, really enjoyable, they’ll pay multiple times to do them again and again and again. Casinos have this knowledge nailed. Drug dealers? Absolutely all over that shit.
Back in the early days of arcades, game manufacturers worked it out too. Thus, finite attempts at a game, expandable with money, became the norm. Now though, the system serves no purpose. We’ve already spent the equivalent of 40-50 arcade credits on any game we're playing at home. Said game is probably a massive, sweeping narrative experience. Continues, thanks to hard drives, rightly, are infinite. But some games still insist on squeezing a lives quota in there too. The upshot of this extra design complexity? Bugger all, except that it causes you an extra delay in getting back into the game every fifth to tenth death. It is pointless. It has no point.
Super Mario 64 was how long ago? So why are we still treating the ability to see what’s going on in a 3D game as a luxurious treat? It’s not a truffle-oil massage from the sexy young queen of some exotic kingdom of opulence and excess. It’s not a fragrant cocktail blended with unicorn tears, Ambrosia and water from the fountain of eternal youth. It’s basic bloody game design and we need it bloody well sorted out right bloody now.
Persistent NPC comrades, particularly in action games, can be great. They’re great at adding character-driven narrative to an otherwise purely action-driven scenario. They’re great at emphasising moments of tension and catharsis. They’re great at adding plausibility to games’ traditional one-man-army plots. You know what else they’re great at? Crapping up all your progress by having the tactical logistical awareness of a deaf mole trying to re-stage Operation Barbarossa.
Squad back-up is supposed to be there to back you up. All to often though, it’s simply there to train you in baby-sitting. If it isn’t forcing you to restart by getting one or more of you killed, it’s forcing you to restart by forcing you to rescue it from getting killed and then getting you killed in the process.
Here’s a crazy idea. How about if, rather than being a tertiary hindrance, co-op AI just plain isn’t there if you’re playing on your own? I know the idea is a radically new one, having only been around since Contra, but it could just work. If I'm playing on my own, it's because I want to play on my own. I don't need a crap simulation of an idiot friend who I don't even get the satisfaction of shouting at when he screws up. Or if said NPCs are vital to narrative, how about making them invincible when under the command of the CPU? Alyx from Half-Life 2 manages that, so why can’t a fully-trained space marine?
Or alternatively, you know, maybe you could just test the code a lot and make sure that it actually works...?
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